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A guide to video interviews

updated on 10 November 2020

Video interviews have become the norm at law firms, barristers' chambers and other employers since the coronavirus pandemic began. Whether you are being interviewed for a vacation scheme, training contract or pupillage, there are some key differences between interviewing over webcam and in-person, so it is important to be prepared.

Talking to camera changed the world forever during the 1960 US presidential election, which saw the first televised debate between candidates – John F Kennedy and Richard Nixon. Kennedy famously won the debate, which proved decisive in that election, not through the power of his arguments (radio listeners supposedly thought Nixon had won), but because he prepared for the special requirements of speaking to a camera, while Nixon thought it would be just another debate.

Kennedy practised, prepared and rested beforehand, while Nixon did little preparation and spent most of the day before the debate campaigning hard, even though he was still recovering from an illness which had recently hospitalised him. On the day of the interview, Nixon paid little attention to his clothes and refused make-up, and went on to look tired and drawn on people’s TV screens. Kennedy’s team paid close attention to every detail, including choosing a blue shirt for Kennedy to wear because they believed that this would show up better on black-and-white TVs.

When the debate started, Kennedy appeared relaxed and confident, while Nixon, having not rehearsed as extensively, sweated and fidgeted uncomfortably under the glaring lights. The lesson is obvious – preparation is key.

There are two types of video interview that employers use when hiring. The first is a traditional face-to-face interview conducted over webcam. The second is not 'live' - instead the candidate records their answers to questions that appear on screen for the recruiter to view later. Some firms may require you to complete a recorded interview first and then a live interview if you get to the next stage. 

  1. Check the space you are going to use

Don't worry too much about what the interviewers can see in the background of the room you are using - recruiters understand that many candidates live in shared accomodation where space is at a premium. But you will need a quiet space where you won't be disturbed by housemates or pets during the interview. Let other people know when your interview or assessment centre is taking place and that you need to have a room undisturbed for a set amount of time. If your pet is unable to understand – or refuses to acknowledge – this heads-up, ensconce them safely in another part of the house. If your fish refuses to heed your words, they must still stay in their tank – they have won this round.

Ideally, the space should be well lit so that the interviewers can see you clearly

  1. Set up your computer in advance

Make sure your internet connection, speakers and camera are working 90 minutes before the interview or assessment centre is due to start. Set up the computer so the camera is slightly above your eyeline if possible – avoid a low shot that has recruiters looking up your nose. Ideally, the space should be well lit so that the interviewers can see you clearly, so test how it looks so you have time to move somewhere else if necessary. Close any other open applications on your computer.

If you lose your internet connection during the interview or assessment centre, don’t panic. If you can't reconnect, you may be able to dial into the meeting or exercise on your mobile phone, so keep this charged and nearby (on silent). If problems persist, use your mobile data to send a quick email to the HR team explaining that you got disconnected – the firm should be able to accommodate you.

       3. Silence your phone and household appliances

You don’t want an alarm to go off or someone to call you during the interview. Similarly, if you have a washing machine or dishwasher that plays a charming ditty when it completes a cycle, make sure this cannot be heard from the room you are going to use, or – even better – ensure that it is switched off.

       4. Wear business dress

Dress exactly as you would for a formal interview. That includes lower body – it’s unlikely that you will need to move during the interview, but if you do, the decision to wear tracksuit bottoms will have backfired. 

       5. Prepare questions

At some point in the interview, you will be given an opportunity to ask questions. Meanwhile, most assessment centres include a Q&A session – often with recruiters or partners. In both situations, make sure you prepare a couple of good questions to ask and make sure that you speak up at least once, even though this can seem daunting.

       6. Use all the allotted time in recorded interviews

Make sure you use all the time available to answer each question. Just as law firms place word limits on questions at the application form stage to assess your written communication skills and whether you pay attention to instructions, they also give a certain amount of time to answer each question at the video interview stage because they want you to use it.

Lights, camera, action

The key to success at this stage is twofold and very simple: taking it seriously enough to prepare beforehand and staying calm, which is much easier when you feel prepared. This way, if anything does go wrong during the process, it will be rectifiable as you will have caught it in good time.

Josh Richman is the senior editorial manager at LawCareers.Net.